Bolivia's Pablo Solon: We need 'a global movement to defend Mother Earth'

Pablo Solon (second from left) and the Bolivian delegation address a press conference during the Copenhagen climate talks, December 2009.

Pablo Solon interviewed by Derrick O'Keefe

June 29, 2010 -- -- While G20 leaders barely made mention of the climate crisis, Pablo Solon, Bolivia's UN ambassador, was in Toronto to encourage action on the Cochabamba protocols.

It is no surprise that Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s chief climate negotiator and ambassador to the United Nations, was not on the list of special invitees to the G8/G20 meetings in Ontario this weekend. After all, in April Solon and the Bolivian government he represents organised the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, an international convergence of as many as 30,000 people determined to challenge the Copenhagen Accord being pushed by the world’s richest countries.

Solon was invited to Toronto to share the results and lessons of Cochabamba by the Council of Canadians. He was one of a number of featured speakers at the council’s "Shout Out for Global Justice" attended by more than 2500 people June 25 at Toronto’s Massey Hall. [You can read Solon's speech at Climate and Capitalism.]

Before going on stage at Massey Hall, he sat down with me to discuss the BP oil spill, the contradictions of Bolivia’s process of transformation and the next steps going forward from Cochabamba.

Derrick O’Keefe: It’s worth noting that the historic BP explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico happened in April at the same time as the Cochabamba World People’s Conference on Climate Change was taking place. Do you see any silver lining in terms of an increased consciousness around these issues, after the BP disaster.

Pablo Solon: You know, the other day I was in the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island, usually it’s an event where artists come together. And I was surprised to see that that parade became a protest against BP, with the mermaids saying, "We don’t want to live in the toilet of BP". There were a lot of protest signs there. So I am absolutely sure that the issue of BP and what has happened has raised consciousness everywhere.

This is very important for the issue of climate change because the issue is the same, the only difference is that the oil goes into the ocean instead of the atmosphere. You cannot see it like you can see it in the Gulf of Mexico but it is the same issue, and it’s the same because it keeps going on and on, and if this continues then you have less and less space in the atmosphere, the same as in the ocean.

What are the key steps, post-Cochabamba, for you in preparing for the next round of negotiations at Cancun?

The key point is that the conclusions of the Cochabamba summit were formally presented to the United Nations process of negotiation on climate change on May 26. But they weren’t taken into account. And now we have a new version of the text that is going to facilitate the negotiations that doesn’t take Cochabamba into account – not at all, not one single proposal – and it doesn’t take into account even the proposals of the G77-plus China.

So we need to put a lot of pressure in order to see first included, as options, the Cochabamba proposals. This is the key thing, because the negotiations for climate change are not only going to be in Cancun, they are already going on. The next meeting we are going to have is August 2 in Bonn. So we need to have the pressure of all of civil society and the social movements in order to have those proposals put back as options on the table in the process of negotiation. That is key.

There was an informal working group at Cochabamba, Group 18. What do you say to their criticism that Bolivia is still an economy based on extraction industries, and that mining and natural gas exploitation should be stopped? That there is a contradiction between the international discourse of the Bolivian government and your country’s local development model?

The problem is that you cannot change everything in four years. The main resource of Bolivia is gas, and if we are able to have growing employment and we are able to have growing salaries and we are able to have more social benefits it’s because we have nationalised gas. So if we were to just shut down our gas, we would be committing suicide.

So I can understand that, from the perspective of some environmentalist groups, but I would say that they have to look at the big picture, because otherwise the process in Bolivia wouldn’t have any forward [movement]. That doesn’t mean that we want to be a country that forever lives from mining and gas. We need to be a country that, first of all, develops some kind of industry that adds value to what we produce, because at the moment we only export raw materials. But you cannot change that just by saying "just leave everything under the ground", you have to find a way to change from that kind of model to another model.

And there also needs to be technology transfer and redistribution – climate debt payment – from the global North.

How much time does it take to develop industry? For example, Bolivia imports paper. Bolivia could produce paper. Bolivia imports nails, but we have rich resources of iron, but we need to be able to develop this. The problem is that from some environmentalists’ perspective, and also from the perspective of some in the North -- what they don’t take into account is the need of countries like Bolivia to go through a process of development in order to have enough resources to change the reality.

But we don’t want to follow the same path of developed countries. But that doesn’t mean that you can suddenly say, "oh we can stop producing gas." That would mean bankruptcy.

And the fall of your government as well.

The fall of the government. That is the reality. Those are the contradictions of the reality too.

So there is only an international solution? You can’t have climate justice in one country any more that you can have socialism in one country.


One of the most inspiring things about Bolivia’s process is the power and pride of the country’s Indigenous majority, reclaiming and refounding the nation. What is your message to Indigenous movements in Canada?

I would say that in order to change that reality it is necessary to strengthen our capacity of organisation, unifying different kinds of social movements. Indigenous people have reach out to urban groups, trade unions, NGOs. Our experience, even though Indigenous people are a majority, is that you can’t change reality if you are not able to build alliances, to build a powerful coalition that brings everybody together. So that is the challenge that we have now.

We have to build a movement that is global, that is able to defend Mother Earth, that is able to defend the rights of immigrants and workers. Once we see that our rights are related to the rights of others then we begin to build that alternative.